Gwen Tuinman

Novelist Speaker Advocate



Gwen Tuinman: Writer in Residence at The Lynde House Museum

Book Talk (online): July 13, 2020, 7pm

The Last Hoffman is a tale of sacrifice, betrayal and desolation rooted in a floundering papermill town where an awkward widower and a young mother band together to overcome their tragic pasts.

Gwen Tuinman will speak about the inspiration for the small-town setting of her debut novel, The Last Hoffman, and the characters that populate it. She’ll discuss her artistic process as well as the surprising mental and physical aspects of writing life. Join Gwen for a reveal of the interesting link between The Last Hoffman book cover design and The Lynde House Museum in Whitby, Ontario.

Click here for tickets. Purchase The Last Hoffman here.

Memoir Workshop (online): July 14 2020, 7 pm

There’s a story inside each one of us waiting to be written. Join Gwen Tuinman, local novelist and memoir essayist, for a discussion of storytelling techniques that can shift the recounting of unique life experiences from a documenting of facts to a riveting tale. Learn about various forms of memoir and how to structure your memories into compelling memoir that readers can’t put down.

Click here for tickets.

Writer in Residence: July 15 & 16, 11:00 am to 2:00 PM

Meet with Gwen online to discuss the details of your writing in a more personal setting. Do you need help starting your first novel? Not sure how to present a particular event in your memoir? Gwen is here to answer all of your questions! Book a session one-to-one or for a small group. Each consultation lasts up to 25 minutes.

Click here for tickets.


Essie was born in 1884. She was my great grandmother and a source of fascination for me as a child.

When visited her home as a young girl, I marvelled at the glass prisms lining her windows and the rainbows cast along her walls. Essie served sultanas and pink marshmallow cookies sprinkled with coconut. She’d sit patiently, eyes closed behind her wire-rimmed glasses, while I brushed her hair. I was nine years old and she was ninety. Continue reading “Essie”

Curating Wonder — Remembrance Day

Continue reading “Curating Wonder — Remembrance Day”

Curating Wonder — Canadian Nurses: WWI

62dbc87501cdbc8b8850c7a57e619e51 Continue reading “Curating Wonder — Canadian Nurses: WWI”

Son of a Certain Woman–The James Joyce Connection

The Son of a Certain WomanThe Son of a Certain Woman by Wayne Johnston rests on a table in my living room where it’s been for a week now.  Wedged beneath it is a spiral bound notebook and an assortment of loose papers bearing crisscrossed mindmaps, diagrams, lists and jot notes.  I thought I would use them to create a sunny bit of stuff to celebrate the greatness of this book.  It is in fact a great book.

The challenge I face is how to narrow the field of discussion.

I’ve seen movies in the theatre where at the end, the credits begin the role, and the audience remains in their seats.  No one speaks. We don’t dart out of the theatre and into the light as is customary because they need time to digest what we’ve have seen.

This is how I felt upon finishing The Son of a Certain Woman. I needed to let the book settle in.

Frank statements made in the first paragraph caused me to say, “Oh my,”  and draw my hand to my throat in a gesture of Victorian unease.  But I read on, accepting Percy as a product of nature and nurture, a product of physiology and questionable parenting.166eb001-d8fd-440d-9369-543c66d4c684

Then, I read the crescendo of the final chapter and thought to myself, that must have been uncomfortable to write. These explicit events must serve something larger in the story, something beyond making the reader gasp.

I should note that until I finished researching, I refrained from reading The Son of a Certain Woman reviews and interviews with Wayne Johnston. I do savour the joy of discovery.

The name “Medina” is unusual, and I wondered about its significance. When I googled cover_ulysses“Medina”, I uncovered a link to Carmelo Medina Casado from The University of Jaén, Spain , author of Legal Prudery: The Case of Ulysses. The author being censored for writing obscenities and blasphemy — James Joyce. Nontraditional families and lifestyles were being censored and declared obscene in The Son of a Certain Woman. Penelope and Medina live in fear that their relationship will be discovered and they’ll be institutionalized by the law and publically condemned by the Church.

Jim Joyce is the biological father of Percy Joyce, absentee fiancé to Penelope Joyce and brother to Medina Joyce.  Did Johnston choose this character’s name as a nod to a controversial author? I soon realized, there was more than a nod.

James-Joyce-9358676-2-402James Joyce (February 2, 1882 – January 13, 1941) was a controversial Irish author and poet. Like Percy, he was notably intelligent and educated in Catholic schools. School records show that he was punished, on several occasions, for vulgar language, as was Percy. In adulthood, he denounced organized religion, referring to it as repressive. He waged war on the Church through his literature. Joyce even went so far as to refuse his dying mother’s request that he confess his sins and kneel at her bedside. If his opposition to religion reminds you of Penelope, you aren’t alone. Joyce also advocated the affair of the eye, the thrill of voyeurism that so captivates young Percy.

Where does the name Penelope fit into this string of  connections? In his book Ulysses, Joyce’s version of The Odyssey, the last chapter is called Episode 18, Penelope. In The Odyssey by Homer, Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is pursued by several suitors in his absence, much the same as Penelope Joyce.

Joyce wrote about oedipal relationships and love triangles. In The Son of a Certain Woman, JJ_nora_kids (2)there is a traditional love triangle between Penelope, Pops, and Medina. Percy’s rival  for Penelope’s affection is Medina, his mother’s true love interest. The real life object of Joyce’s affections was Nora Barnacle. Like Medina, she was not a learned woman but she was loyal to the end.

What about Pops?  James Joyce and his wife, Nora, found jj_stanislausthemselves in desperate financial straits in Paris.  They had two children and no means to support themselves.  Joyce called on his brother, Stanislaus, who came to live with them.  Stanislaus was a consistent breadwinner, who not only funded the family, but could be manipulated into babysitting the Joyce children. This is sounding a bit familiar, isn’t it?

And so I’ve learned that Ulysses is unto Wayne Johnston as The Odyssey was unto James Joyce. I could have learned this inside of five minutes with the click of a mouse and a search of the web, but what would have been the fun in that?

Thank you, Mr. Johnston, for alerting me to the word autodidact.  Knowledge has value regardless of how it is acquired. I feel a bit more clever today and will, from here on, dispense of the term “self taught”.

Other links of interest:

James Joyce reading an excerpt from Ulysses:

Wayne Johnston writes about Ulysses connection in  Hazlit :

Are you curious about Brother McHugh?  Click here to discover his James Joyce connection:

 Please continue the conversation.  Leave a comment.

Percy and GJoyce
Son of a Certain Woman meets Son of James Joyce
Do you see a resemblance?

Self Editing–Where Rules Meet Intuition

Fraulein Kussin and Mrs Edwards

I’m trying to make friends with the process of self editing — again.

Self editing and I get along well, as a rule. Our end goal is the same; we both want to produce a piece of work that is both engaging and grammatical.

On occasion, our relationship falls to the wayside. 

She hones in on technicalities, and I tend to preoccupy myself with the music of the words. Neither one of us wants to relent. 

Can’t we just meet in the middle?

Here’s the Story

After becoming completely enamoured with a quiet fishing villageDSC_0031 on the Avalon peninsula of Newfoundland, I sat down and started writing.  At the time, I didn’t know if I was writing a short story or a scene for a novel.  The ideas continued to flow, from St. John’s to Deer Lake, until I’d laid down over 5000 words.  I’ve since developed a novel storyline that incorporates this story as part of a three character narrative.  But I digress.

I read the short story version at an event and discovered that it resonated with the audience. People commented on the voice of the character and the rhythm of the prose. Now, nearly a year later, I’m preparing the writing for submission.  I worry that perfecting the grammar will adversely affect the voice and cadence of the piece.

Self Edit References

I’m reminded that the exercise of self editing extends beyond proofreading for spelling and grammar errors, and requires that writers attend to other details like formatting and word choice, to name a few. My constant companions are Elements of Style and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

These online tips for self editing offer useful content:

It’s time for another editing session.  With a fresh cup of coffee and my two favourite references at my finger tips, I wheel my chair up to the desk. In the end, rules will meet intuition, and I’ll hope I’ve done the story justice.

 *Click the books to view content.

Strunk and White

Self editing for fiction writers

Please leave a comment.  I would love to hear from you!

Book Awards for Canadian Fiction — The Who and the What of It All

Book awards! They’ve been dropping like leaves from trees and I’ve been walking, head down into the wind, kicking acronyms right and left.  I mean this figuratively, of course.

I just returned from a walk in the woods, literally, and decided to curl up in front of the fireplace with some cocoa and a laptop.  My afternoon project, to rake up these book awards and find out the what’s-what and the who’s-who of it all — from winners to judges.


Governor General’s Award

Scotiabank Giller Prize

Man Booker Prize

Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction



Eleanor CattonEleanor Catton gg Lynn Cody


Eleanor CattonEleanor Catton

Colin McAdam

Colin McAdams

Awarded for:  luminaries imagesCAD1BV3W  hellgoing  luminaries imagesCAD1BV3W  a beautiful truth imagesCANW72FR
Awarded to: The year’s best English-language and the best French-language book in each of the seven categories. The year’s best Canadian fiction novel or short story collection. The year’s best Canadian fiction

*There is also a Man Booker International Prize.

The year’s best Canadian fiction novel or short story collection

* Writer’s Trust also gives out nine other awards annually.

Eligibility: Eligibility Guidelines

“… must have been writ-ten, translated or illustra-ted by Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada (they do not need to be residing in Canada). 

Self published books are ineligible 

Eligibility Guidelines  

Must be a first edition full length novel or short story collection written by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada Must be written in English 

Self published books are ineligible

Eligibility Guidelines

Must be a first edition full length novel written by a citizen of the Common-wealth or Republic of Ireland, published in the United Kingdom. Must be an original work in English (not a translation) 

Self published books are ineligible

Eligibility Guidelines

Writers must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada. (Canadian writers living overseas are eligible.)

Self published books are ineligible 


A jury of fellow authors, translators and illustrators, makes the final selection in each category.

A panel of three celebrated Canadian authors

“… judges are chosen from a wide range of disciplines, including critics, writers and academics, but also poets, politicians and actors, all with a passion for quality fiction.”

“An Author’s Committee composed of writers from across the country recommends writers” to fill a three member, independent judging panel

Don’t Tell Me the Moon Is Shining — A “Show-Don’t-Tell” Refresher


“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
―     Anton Chekhov

What if, in Charlotte Brontë ,  Jane Eyre had written,  “Jane felt frustrated”?  Would we be able to discover that quote in Good Reads in the year 2013?  Fortunately, Jane Eyre chose to show us how the character felt, instead of telling us.

“Jane, be still; don’t struggle so like a wild, frantic bird, that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.”
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.”
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, 

As Checkov so aptly stated, don’t tell me; show me.  The phrase is a common one in writers’ circles, but what does it mean?  This video called Descriptive Writing in Simple Terms is a great primer for “Show-Don’t-Tell”.

Dialogue Tags Speak Volumes:

How many of us have heard, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it”?  The tone colours the message.  We can use this idea to create more engaging writing.

“Said” is the go-to of all dialogue tags — use it but don’t rely on it.  Replace “said” with different dialogue tags that convey the tone, mood, and personality of your character.  “I’m so angry,” said Sally  — versus  — “I’m so angry,” Sally shrieked. (Use this strategy sparingly.)

Body Language

Our social interactions are informed by nonverbal cues.  We can replace telling in our writing, with body language that is appropriate to the emotion that our character feels. “Bobby was nervous” versus “Bobby wiped his hands against the front of his shirt, his eyes darting about the room.”

It is important to match the body language to the character’s profile.  For example, a nervous boy may wipe his hands on his shirt, but a nervous business man might loosen his tie and pour a scotch on the rocks.


Reading is a form of escapism. A story should take the reader by the hand and lead them to a place of the author’s creating.  Consider how sensory input informs us in real life.  We use smell, sound, touch, and taste in a myriad of useful ways.  For example, combinations of these senses to interpret our surroundings and to assess the people we meet.  Readers rely on sensory input to do the same thing in our stories.  Telling a list of only what the character sees, will create a one dimensional story.  Appeal to all five senses.

Paint a Scene with Descriptive Words:

A stick figure is a legitimate representation of a person. But the Mona Lisa is a representation made masterful by its realism.  Five hundred years later, we’re still talking about her. In writing, telling is the equivalent to a stick figure.

James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans, could have written a stick person version: The scout held Chingachgook’s hand and they cried.

Thankfully, he wrote this instead: “Chingachgook grasped the hand that, in the warmth of feeling, the scout had stretched across the fresh earth, and in that attitude of friendship these intrepid woodsmen bowed their heads together, while scalding tears fell to their feet, watering the grave of Uncas like drops of falling rain.”  

According to Stephen King, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” A point worth noting!

Photo Credit:  Anton Chekhov, (last visited November 19, 2013)

Is there anything you’d like to share?  What’s your latest writing epiphany? I’d love to hear from you.

Mayoral Mayhem — A Writer’s Reflection on “Show-Don’t-Tell”

yellow+light+bulb_clipped_rev_1I’m not a political person.  Frankly, I’m a bit of a peace, love, groovy type of girl.  I own two yoga mats, incense and a host of vegetarian cookbooks.  And I’ll just come right out and admit that I meditate, although not as effectively as I’d like to.  Just saying, I’m no rabble rouser.

So if, dear reader, you are hoping for a juicy skewering of Rob Ford, prepare to be disappointed. This is not that kind of post.

This notwithstanding, I was intrigued by two video interviews that ran this weekend: The Globe and Mail s What We Can Learn From Rob Ford’s Body Language  and Global News Toronto’s Rob Ford’s Body Language Uncoded.  A big yellow light bulb above my head turned on.

Body Language and “Show-Don’t-Tell”

The business of journalism is to tell us everything.  Nothing is left to the reader’s imagination. Fiction writers take a different approach — “show-don’t-tell“.  One of the earliest lessons a serious writer learns, is that the story is more engaging when we infer inner thoughts and feelings by assigning the corresponding body language.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of these news stories and what we do as fiction writers.  The journalists were on the outside looking in.  They reported on the real life events, then their experts analyzed Ford’s body language.  They scrutinized his gestures, posture, facial expressions, and eye movements to deduce mayor’s inner thoughts and feelings. 

As fiction writers, we begin with the imagined character’s inner thoughts and feelings.  We assign body language that infers those thoughts and feelings, then we stitch everything together into a story. Fiction writers are on the inside looking out, planting subtleties that the reader can use to independently construct their own interpretation of the character.  


“Show-Don’t-Tell” — Reminders, examples and resources in next post!

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